The Job Interview : 20 Questions (and answers)

Here are 20 of the most common job interview questions, what they really mean (what the employer wants to know), how to answer them and how not to answer them.

Compiled and edited from: https://www.totaljobs.com/insidejob/most-common-interview-questions/

 

  1. Tell me about yourself

What the employer wants to know

This is probably the most common interview question. It’s often the first to be asked and, because it’s an open question, it’s a tough one to answer.

An employer will have developed an impression of you from your CV and cover letter. Your answer to this question quickly helps them determine the accuracy of that impression. It also gives them an opportunity to observe your levels of confidence and composure, through your voice and body language.

If you’re calm and confident at the interview, you’ll probably be a good person to work with.

How not to answer: Don’t ramble, be brief. A one- to two-minute summary is the right length.

  1. What do you know about the organisation?

What the employer wants to know

You can’t know everything about an employer from the outside, but it’s important to know the basics.

The employer will expect you to know about their:

  • Industry/sector.
  • Goals.
  • Key challenges.
  • Major competitors.
  • Culture and values.
  1. Why do you want to work for us?

How to answer

The key to an excellent answer is thorough research.

There are many tools you can use to research any company, explains James Shaikh, recruitment manager at EY. They include:

  • The company’s own site or careers website.
  • Job boards like indeed.ca
  • Press releases from the company and their competitors.
  • Industry-specific publications to learn more about the sector.

But don’t stop there

How not to answer

Don’t simply repeat the contents of the business’s website, or the company description in the job advert.

  1. Why do you want to work for us?

What the employer wants to know

The employer wants to uncover your motivations for the job.

How to answer

To answer this question successfully, focus on the employer’s needs, not what you want.

It helps to demonstrate that you’re a good fit for the role.

You could also talk about the company culture or management structure.

Don’t forget to show enthusiasm, too

How not to answer

A big mistake is to answer this question by saying negative things about your present employer.

Don’t frame your answer in the past or present. Instead, focus on the future. This is not the time to bring up salary or benefits, or relatively minor incentives such as free parking space. Be clear that you don’t just want any job, but that you want this job.

  1. What can you bring to the company?

What the employer wants to know

The employer wants to compare your skills with those required for the role.

They’re also looking for your unique selling point (USP).

It’s a roundabout way of asking why they should offer you the job.

This question is also phrased as…

  • Why do you think you’re suitable for this role?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • What would you bring to the team?

How to answer

Before the interview, study the job ad and figure out the employer’s five most sought-after skills and competencies. Think critically about your work history (and education if applicable). For each skill, come up with a brief example that explains how you acquired or developed that skill, and how your possession of it benefited your employer at the time.

If you know someone who already works for the employer, ask them if they need a related skill or service that hasn’t been stated in the job ad. If you can demonstrate experience with something they’re looking for, your answer will be particularly strong.

Describe:

  • How you work.
  • Your passion for the industry.
  • Your motivation to deliver results.
  • Ways you can bring a fresh perspective to the business.

How not to answer

Candidates often make the mistake of not using examples to back up their answers.

  1. What are your weaknesses?

What the employer wants to know

An employer will ask this to see if you’re aware of your weaknesses, and whether or not you have strategies in place to tackle them.

“We’ve all got weaknesses. It’s recognising them that’s important. The interviewer is looking for you to be self-aware. If a candidate can’t think of anything they want to improve, then that will set alarm bells ringing for the interviewer, making them a bit mistrustful.

How to answer

It can be difficult to think of a weakness.

One trick is to ask your close friends and family what professional traits they think you need to work on

Talk about an area of development – something you’re working on at the moment.

Examples include sharpening up skills in a particular area, such as taking an online course, or showing how you control your own learning agenda. Make sure you:

  1. Describe your weakness.
  2. Explain how you’re working to overcome it.

Here are some things you could say:

  • “Previously, when managing multiple projects at the same time, I wasn’t able to remember and prioritise my tasks. To counter this, each day I created a prioritised to-do list.”
  • “I used to spend too much time on tasks that weren’t the highest priority. Now I’m better at allocating my time to things that deliver value to the business.”
  • “I used to get nervous giving presentations, so I enrolled on a course to improve my public speaking.”

How not to answer

Don’t pick a weakness that’s really a strength in disguise. He says the interviewer will see through your answer, and it’ll come across as a bluff.

A classic, overused example is “I’m a perfectionist”. Interviewees are often advised to use it. Don’t. Talk about something that relates to work. Being able to identify an area for improvement is a positive trait, it shows you are willing to learn and progress.

Don’t highlight something that’s a key skill of the job. And don’t say that you don’t have any weaknesses.

  1. What are your strengths?

This question is also phrased as…

  • What are the key strengths that you’ll bring to this role?
  • What are your key skills?

What the employer wants to know

Employers are interested in how your skills, competencies and experiences match what they need for the role. They want to know if you have the relevant capabilities and experience for the job. If you do, they’ll want to hire you.

Perfect your answer to this question, and you’ll improve your chances of landing the job greatly.

Another way they might ask the question is What can you bring to the company? (question 4).

How to answer

Analyse the job advert and pick out the key skills and competencies needed for the role. When researching the company, also keep a lookout for any information that shows what skills and competencies it’s looking for.

Make it clear how your current/previous employer has benefited from your strengths. For example, say: “I have met or exceeded targets every quarter, which I feel is due to my strengths in tenacity and persuasiveness.”

How not to answer

Don’t list strengths that aren’t relevant to the job you’re applying for. And don’t be shy about your accomplishments.

  1. Why is there a gap in your work history?

What the employer wants to know

To avoid this question, don’t leave a gap in your employment history on your job application or in your CV.

From an employer’s perspective, a gap is a red flag. It could put doubt in their mind, when there should be none. You can counter this by having a reasonable explanation for it.

The most common reasons for a gap on the CV are:

  • Redundancy.
  • Dismissal.
  • Travelling/gap year.
  • Personal/health issues.
  • Being a carer.
  • Being a parent.

How to answer

Don’t panic.  Your approach to this question will depend on many factors:

  • How much time you’ve had off.
  • What you did during the time you were off.
  • Your track record in your previous jobs.

Talk about anything constructive you did during your time off, like preparing for an important exam, volunteering or completing an MBA. Mention skills or knowledge you cultivated during this time.

If there’s a noticeable gap in your employment and you were going through a personal issue, you’re well within your rights to say: “I was dealing with something personal and decided to take a break from the workplace to allow me to focus on getting that resolved as quickly as possible. This enabled me to move on,”

Although it may feel counter-intuitive, bringing up the gap yourself can be a good tactic.

How not to answer

  • You mustn’t lie. Be careful about how much you reveal, and try to put a positive spin on the situation.
  • Don’t be negative or defensive when you explain the gap.
  • Don’t say: “It’s none of your business” or “I don’t want to talk about that.”
  1. What challenges are you looking for in a position?

What the employer wants to know

The employer will be looking for a candidate whose ambitions match well with the opportunities they can provide. If you give the impression you don’t have any ambitions, you’ll come across as not wanting to deliver results. If you describe ambitions that the company could never realistically fulfil, the employer will be concerned you’ll want to leave too soon after being hired.

How to answer

Frame your response in terms of the employer’s key challenges and how you can help resolve them. This is where your research in the company is vital, because it allows you to highlight the skills you have that are most relevant to that company.

How not to answer

Don’t suggest challenges that would either hinder your ability to do the work or be impossible to overcome.

At the other end of the scale, don’t suggest challenges that would be too easy or too quick to complete, as this won’t allow you to show room for growth.

  1. What would an excellent performance look like in this role?

What the employer wants to know

The employer is trying to determine three things:

  • How committed you’d be to this role.
  • Your general work ethic.
  • What impact you might make.

How to answer

Your answer should then describe the actions you’ll take to help the employer achieve those measures. Where possible, describe relevant examples from your current role.

How not to answer

Many candidates make the mistake of over-promising, which can damage your credibility.

  1. Tell me an achievement you are proud of

This question is also phrased as…

  • What is your greatest achievement?
  • What is your greatest accomplishment?
  • Tell me about your biggest achievement.
  • What are you most proud of?

What the employer wants to know

This question is designed to find out more about you and what makes you tick.

As a business you’re not just recruiting someone to do that role, you’re looking for a personality. You want a rounded individual. If someone describes a challenge that shows resilience, such as completing an enduring fitness challenge or a charitable accomplishment that demonstrates a strong social and ethical conscience, this stands them in good stead.

How to answer

Say something that speaks about your aspirations and values. Organising a sport or fundraising event, taking part in a race, or learning and using a new language or musical instrument are good examples

How not to answer

Don’t pick anything that isn’t relevant to the role – or something that isn’t a big achievement. Do not be dishonest. Your claims will likely be fact-checked as part of the reference process. “Don’t be afraid to be proud of something you’ve done. Confidence is achievable without being cocky

 

  1. Why should we hire you?

What the employer wants to know

The important part of this question is ‘you’. That’s who the employer is interested in.

“What makes you valuable to the business? What are you motivated by?

 

How to answer

Answering a question like this means explaining your unique selling points (USPs)

Typical USPs include:

  • You’re trained in using a particular tool, application or service.
  • Your current employer has put you on management training.
  • You’re certified or possess a renowned qualification.
  • You’re trained in health and safety or first aid.

Talk about how your specific skills can make a difference to the company and the challenges it faces.

How not to answer

Whatever you do, don’t say “I don’t know.” Although you need to sell yourself, avoid answers that sound arrogant. Lay out the facts rather than bragging about your skills and experience.

Avoid clichés, too.

  1. What can you do for us that other candidates can’t?

This question is also phrased as…

  • Why are you suitable for the job?
  • Why should we hire you?

What the employer wants to know

According to Kathleen McLeary, HR manager at Blue Digital, employers ask this question to:

  • Understand your character.
  • See if you’re negative about others.
  • See if you focus on yourself.
  • Find out whether or not you can cope under the pressure the question puts you under.

How to answer

Ask yourself: “What do I have to offer that others don’t?”

How not to answer

Don’t make flimsy promises, but provide tangible examples of your skills or experiences. Don’t be negative about the employer you’re interviewing for, such as pointing out lots of their flaws. Avoid being negative about your current employer, too.

  1. What would you do in the first month in the job?

This question is also phrased as…

  • What would you do in the first week in the job?
  • What would you do in the first year in the job?

What the employer wants to know

The employer wants to know if you’ve considered what you’d like to achieve in the role.

They’ll want to establish whether you understand what would be required of you, and how you’d contribute to the organisation. Employers also use this question to weed out candidates who aren’t serious about getting the job.

How to answer

Goals could be personal, for your team, the business function or for the business as a whole.

Make your answer specific to the job you’ve applied for.

How not to answer

  • Don’t make up something on the spot. Prepare examples in advance.
  • Don’t make overly ambitious claims, such as ‘I can turnaround this poorly performing department in two weeks.’
  1. What kind of environment do you like best?

What the employer wants to know

The employer wants to know if you would fit with their organisational culture and working conditions. That includes:

  • Fitting in with the team.
  • Demographics and personalities of existing employees.
  • Working hours.
  • Work ethic.
  • The style of the workplace (especially relevant for office jobs).

The employer isn’t looking for a perfect match – just a good one.

How to answer

Be honest about who you are, and what you want.

“Candidates should not take a position where they know they will be unhappy, so it is not a terrible thing to be completely honest. If they don’t want to hire you then they won’t – and it means you’re not a good fit,” says Katherine Burik, founder of The Interview Doctor.

It’s very important to do your research and to try and understand a bit more about the culture of the company. It’s one thing to know about the facts of the company but another to know what the culture is like. Is it made up of very relaxed, young trendy people? Is it a bit more formal, a bit more old fashioned? You’ve got to try and make sure that in the same way they’re trying to offer you a job, you’re comfortable working in that environment.”

How not to answer

Don’t lie to yourself or to the employer. If at interview the employer tells you about their work environment, and you know straight away that it wouldn’t suit you, say so. The interview might very well end there, so politely thank the interviewer for their time. They’ll be grateful for your honesty.

 

  1. What’s your dream job?

What the employer wants to know

This is one of the hardest common interview questions to answer.

The employer needs to understand, ‘has the candidate logically thought about the steps they take to get to their end career goal’

Other implied questions include:

  • What are your aspirations?
  • Do your aspirations align with the opportunities this employer can provide?
  • Would you fit in with the employer’s culture?
  • How motivated are you for this job?
  • How happy would you be in this job?

How to answer

Talk about:

  • The skills you possess, and how they meet the needs of the employer.
  • Those skills you want to develop, and how this role will enable you to develop them.
  • The ideals and ideas that motivate you, and how the employer is striving for them.
  • Your areas of passion or interest, and how this role will help you engage with them.
  • Your values and how well they align with those of the employer.

One trick is to talk about the nature of your dream job, rather than a specific job title. “For example, perhaps it’s working as part of a high-performing team or with a progressive company. Think about what’s important to you and describe how your dream job aligns with this,” says Lisa LaRue, career coach and founder of CareerWorx.

How not to answer

Avoid picking a dream job that doesn’t exist. You should avoid straying too far from the role you’re applying for. “Don’t mention anything that could compromise your position if offered the job, such as working for a competitor, setting up your own business or travelling the world.

Don’t describe the job you’re applying for, because it’ll sound like you lack drive. The same applies to your current job, as apart from sounding weird, it’ll give the impression that you won’t settle in the role you’re applying for.

 

  1. What motivates you?

This question is also phrased as…

  • What are your career aspirations or goals?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years’ time?

What the employer wants to know

The employer wants to know if you’ll be driven to do a good job.

How to answer

It’s important to get across that your skills, experience and personality match the role.

If you’ve done your research and you have a good grasp of the employer’s mission, then you’ll find it easier to match your motivations with the role. A good approach is to describe the goals you’d target in the role you’re interviewing for. The same goes for questions

How not to answer

Avoid mentioning financial motivations like salary or other perks of the job. They’re a given, no matter the job Don’t describe anything that could be interpreted as being counter-productive to the team, or overly competitive against others in the company. An obvious exception is competition within a sales team.

 

  1. If you were an animal what would you be?

What the employer wants to know

Offbeat interview questions such as this can often be difficult to answer. They’re typically used to assess how a candidate handles pressure, their levels of initiative, and how they respond to being put outside their comfort zone.

Other examples of wacky interview questions include:

  • Which three items would you take with you to Mars?
  • Sell me this pen.

How to answer

“It’s just as good to say ‘that’s a really interesting question, I’m sure you get a lot of interesting answers. Off the top of my head I could probably think of…’ That’s a simple construct that buys you 10 seconds of thinking time, and flatters the interviewer, as well as showing that you’re not completely like a rabbit in the headlights,” says Lees.

Once you’ve bought yourself some thinking time, you should be able to pick an animal that reflects some of your key strengths or traits. Here’s an example: “I’m a bit like a sheepdog, I focus on rounding up the team to meet a particular goal. I’m a quick learner, as well as being friendly and adaptable.”

How not to answer

The worst response is to say nothing or fail to take the question seriously.

The interviewer is looking for you to think on your feet. So, whatever animal you pick, you need to justify your answer by tying it back to the skills needed for the job.

 

  1. Describe your character in under 30 words

This question is also phrased as…

  • How would your friends describe you?
  • What would your colleagues or friends say are your best qualities?
  • What would your boss say about you?

What the employer wants to know

An employer uses this question to find out if you’re self-aware.

How to answer

Describe the skills and competencies that make you a perfect fit for the role. You could mention: punctuality, work ethic, team-working skills, interpersonal skills.

Think about all the skills and competencies you’ll bring to the role

Consider adding a weakness, but be sure to include how you plan to address it, as in question

How not to answer

Don’t mention negative traits that would impair your ability to do the job.

 

  1. What are your salary expectations?

What the employer wants to know

The employer wants to find out if your salary expectations match the salary they have in mind for this role.

If your expectation is too high for the budget available for the role, this could put you out of the running.

If your expectation is too low, this could leave the interviewer questioning your suitably for the role, in regards to your level of experience.

How to answer

Unless the interviewer brings it up, you should avoid getting into salary negotiations in the interview, as it’s best discussed at the point of a job offer.

However, some employers feel the need to address the subject at interview says Kathleen McLeary, HR manager at Blue Digital. “We understand this can be a sensitive question, but we need to understand if we are both on the same page.”

To cover this scenario, ensure you have a salary number in mind.

To determine the right number, research the average rate for this type of role within the particular industry.

The totaljobs Salary Checker is a useful tool that allows you to easily compare the average salary for a role, across UK locations, disciplines and industries. By entering your location and job title, the tool reveals the average salary, and the highest and lowest rates based on recent totaljobs job advertisements.

How not to answer

  • Don’t under or overestimate what you’re worth, says Alison Clay, careers advisor at the University of Sheffield.
  • Don’t give away more than you need to about your current or desired salary, or ask others in the room about their remuneration.

 

  1. Do you have any questions for us?

What the employer wants to know

Many employers ask this question because they simply want to give you fair opportunity to find out more about them. This question also gives employers one final opportunity to gauge your interest in the role and to assess your critical thinking skills.

How to answer

This question is a great way to open up a discussion. Many candidates wonder ‘what questions should I ask in an interview?’ Open-ended questions are better than ones that require yes or no answers. You could ask questions around:

  • The company or department.
  • Organisational culture.
  • The team you’d be joining.
  • The challenges you may face in the first month.
  • The future direction of the company.
  • What the company is doing to beat competitors.
  • What a typical day would be like.
  • Why the role has become available.

Examples of good interview questions to ask

  • What would you expect me to achieve in the first several months?
  • What is the department’s biggest challenge at this time?
  • In your opinion, what do you see as the greatest challenge to this organisation’s future growth?
  • How would you describe the ideal employee?
  • What type of training does the company provide?
  • What are the current goals of the department?
  • How soon are you looking for someone to start?
  • I’m really interested in this job. When can I expect to hear back from you?

How not to answer

The most important thing is that you’ve prepared a shortlist of questions, as not preparing any shows a lack of enthusiasm for the role and company.

Questions to avoid include:

  • Asking about lunch breaks, holiday allowance, etc.
  • Basic questions which should have already been covered in your research, job description or person specification.
  • Irrelevant or silly questions, such as where the bathroom is or the company’s policy on office pets.
  • Questions that are too personal or gossipy.

 

Common interview questions do’s and don’ts

  1. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Preparation is key to landing the job. “My tip is to do an analysis of yourself before the interview,” says Renu Gundala, recruitment team lead at Oxfam UK. “Sit down and identify your strengths and weaknesses specified in the job description. A good job advert will give you a starting point.
  2. This will tell you a lot about your capability and how strong a candidate you are for the role.”
  3. Be honest. Any lies are likely to be caught out when the employer contacts your references.
  4. Wherever possible, match your skills with those the employer is looking for.
  5. Whenever you say you have a skill, describe a situation in your work history that demonstrates you possess it or how you developed it.
  6. Make a good first impression with positive and confident body language.
  7. Do your homework on the people you will meet, the company, culture and the role, to confirm your interest to the potential employer and better tailor your answers.
  8. Have a list of five key points you’d like to convey during the interview. If you don’t get an opportunity to raise them during the main part of the interview, cover them at the end.
  9. Have a selection of pre-prepared strengths and weaknesses. Make sure your strengths are relevant to the role, and the weaknesses include competencies that you are working to improve. Avoid clichés.
  10. Be prepared to be tested with difficult interview questions and pushed on areas you would rather avoid on your CV. Have answers memorized in advance.
  11. Think about what you want to achieve in this role and to what timelines.
  12. Use the right amount of detail in your responses – about two minutes’ worth of speaking for each answer.
  13. Make sure you have some well-planned questions for the interviewer, so you don’t fall down at this important final hurdle.

 

 

 

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